North Korea says it blew up its de-facto embassy with the South so “human scum” defectors and Seoul “pay dearly for their crimes”.
In a dramatic escalation of tensions, Pyongyang destroyed the inter-Korea liaison office after threatening to retaliate if North Korean defectors in the South went ahead with a campaign to send propaganda leaflets into the North.
North Korea’s KCNA state news said the four-storey building, which had been closed since January over fears of the novel coronavirus, was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion”.
Tuesday’s action has stoked fears that military clashes could break out along the heavily fortified and guarded Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the neighbours after the North said its troops were prepared to enter the area.
South Korea confirmed the liaison office, just inside the North’s border town of Kaesong, had been blown up.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion and seeing smoke rising over the town.
The office, when it was operating, served as an embassy for both of the old rivals and its destruction represents a major set-back for efforts by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in to coax the North into cooperation.
Tension has been rising over recent days with North Korea threatening to cut ties with South Korea and retaliate over the propaganda leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, including on human rights.
KCNA said the office was blown up to force “human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”.
North Korea refers to defectors as “human scum”.